How to Acknowledge Privilege

As I have stated from the start in this blog, I find myself in a position of tenuous balance between privilege and otherness. On the one hand I am white, cis-gendered, educated, and middle class. On the other, I am a woman, queer, and poly. This means that I frequently find myself contemplating what privilege really means, and how to appropriately acknowledge the ways in which I view the world from a privileged position.

A lot of folks balk at the idea of privilege, reacting as though acknowledging their personal privilege means abandoning the value of their opinions. This is a common view among the MRA (men’s rights activist) people: they reject the notion of their own privilege because they believe acknowledgment will require them to always be wrong. Thus, they insist they are not privileged, and rather trot out all their personal insecurities as weak arguments against it.

On the opposite side, which is where I sometimes find myself sliding, there is the overreaction to one’s own privilege that results in a fear of expressing opinions outside of my personal purview. I will sometimes completely avoid weighing in on any subject which I can’t address from experience, because I believe that my personal privilege colors my opinion enough to be not only invalid but potentially insensitive. For example, I would be happy to absorb, but resist ever engaging in, a conversation about trans* visibility, because I believe my cis-gendered perspective is incapable of presenting a valid statement on the subject.

That fear is not actually legitimate. I can educate myself and participate in discourse on subjects that I do not personally experience. And I can do so without disowning my experience of privilege. The how is a little tricky for me.

For those just tuning in to the world of useful life knowledge, when I talk about privilege I am referring to the ingrained perspective on the world which a person gains when they are in a normative position for their culture. For example, here in the US, and particularly in the Midwest where I make my home, the perspective on gender of a person who is cis-gendered is a privileged perspective. Sexuality for a heterosexual, race for a white person, religion for a Christian, etc.

My mind both rails against and shudders at my personal experience of privilege. Sometimes I feel like I should be allowed to relate to all oppressed groups, because I fall into several categories of otherness myself. The pride in me says, “I’m not normative, I’m alternative in all these ways, there’s no way I’m privileged.” Other times I see all the ways in which my privilege blinds me, and I just want to apologize to everyone, or find some way to eliminate my privilege, which of course isn’t possible without completely chucking out all cultural norms.

There is a balance to be struck. The experience of privilege can’t be eliminated or ignored. Most of us live with it in one way or another. At the same time, we shouldn’t hide from any subject on which we have a privileged perspective, because increasing our understanding will allow us to participate in important issues, even if they’re not ones we ourselves experience. I want to be a positive force for things like trans* issues, but I can’t do that if I believe my privileged position makes me incapable of it.

The fact is, privilege is ok. It’s not something I chose – I didn’t one day decide which normative molds I was going to fit and which ones I wasn’t. Privilege is not something to treat with shame or fear. It’s something to acknowledge openly, and factor into my daily experiences, seeing the ways in which it colors my opinions without feeling the compulsion to immediately negate those opinions.

I’m sure that for anyone with a background in women’s studies, queer theory, gender studies, etc, this whole post has been a 101-level snore. Personally, I have no academic background on these subjects. I gather my knowledge through blogs, articles, and experience. So sometimes my revelations are really a little bit basic. But I hope that for some folks, what I have to say can be as helpful as it is for me to get it written down.

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How to be Your Favorite Barista’s Favorite Customer

Yeah, I know, this has nothing to do with feminism, polyamory, queer culture, or anything deep and intellectually hip. But, I think it’s the sort of thing a lot of people might enjoy a free primer on, especially if you’re that person that thinks the barista is cute but has no idea how to chat him/her up.

There are a lot of great bloggers out there who have written a lot of great pieces on how not to be a douchebag in a restaurant or coffee shop. And those offer a fantastic baseline. But if you want to be the customer that the staff goes “Where’s so-and-so, I haven’t seen him/her in awhile?” (and says it with regret rather than celebration), there aren’t a ton of guides for it. So I’m writing one.

1: Tip Generously.

Yes, this seems incredibly obvious, but I’d also like to point out that everyone’s idea of “generously” is different. You don’t have to break the bank and drop a $5 tip every time you buy a $4 latte. But do it the first time. If you really want to, do it again once every month or two, but that first $5 bill in the jar is guaranteed to get the employee’s attention. Afterward, tip with paper money, every time. The people who think that only their change goes in the jar often leave $.08 tips on their $3.92 lattes, and those people suck. The ones that always put paper in the jar, we see you and we love you.

Note: this obviously also applies to the write-in credit card tips.

2: Speak Kindly

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No, I don’t wear this to work every day. Yes, I did actually work in it.

Sometimes, things go wrong. Maybe it’s like an hour before our weekly delivery comes in and we’re out of all the things. That sucks. You’ve been denied the almond milk for your latte, the bacon for your breakfast sandwich, and we have no chocolate chip scones so you’re stuck with a blueberry muffin. These things are frustrating.

Here’s the thing. Chances are good that we’re just as frustrated as you are. My life runs most smoothly when a customer rattles of a list of things they want, and all I have to say is “I’ll bring it right out to you.” So, when you’re in a situation where you’re not getting what you want, think for a minute if the problem is likely to be the barista’s fault. If it isn’t don’t give him/her a hard time about it. It won’t make your bacon magically appear, and it will make the barista hate you forever. Seriously, one bad-mouthing and the staff WILL hate you FOREVER.

Additionally, I’m very happy to make whatever weird concoction you want to drink/eat, and am able and willing to work off-menu for you. But if you act like that’s something you’re entitled to, rather than a favor I’m gladly giving, I won’t want to do it any more. So, be kind.

And, you know what? Sometimes you’ve had a bad day. I get that. Sometimes I’ve had a bad day too, but I’m still kind to my customers because I’m obligated to be. You don’t have that obligation, but if you bring your bad day to my counter, I’ll remember you, and not fondly. If I didn’t cause your bad day, don’t take it out on me. The customer who always smiles back at me when I smile at him/her, that’s the one I love.

3: Jog My Memory

I really really want to remember the name and favorite beverage of every customer that enters my shop more than once a week. I don’t. And if I don’t remember what you order, it’s not because I don’t like you. It’s because there are many regulars, who all want different things, and especially if you like something complicated it takes me awhile to store it in the memory banks.

With that in mind, if I say “what can I get for you?” please don’t say “my usual.” If I remembered your “usual,” I wouldn’t be asking that question. I’d be saying something like “so, your usual mocha?” Instead, try “my usual ____(fill in the item).” That way, I will not only get a reminder of what you want, I’ll associate it in my head as what you will typically want in the future.

Pro tip: If you never tell me your name, I won’t know it. If you want me to remember you better, introduce yourself. If you’re shy, run a tab. I’ll have to write down your name and remember it until you close your tab. Next time I see you, it might stick.

4: Remember my Name

This rule doesn’t apply across the board, because addressing me by name comes with a little bit of protocol. There have been several people in my shop that are friends-of-friends, who come up and address me by name like we know each other, but I don’t know who they are. This puts me in the awkward position of saying “oh, hey, you, yeah, hi there you, how are you?” with no clue who you are. So, going back to my pro tip, introduce yourself. And after that, it’s totally encouraged to remember my name.

So! We have learned some rules, now let’s have some role-play (I know, getting kinky).┬áLet’s say it’s your second or third time in the shop, and you introduced yourself on your first visit.

Me: Hey, (your name), how’s it going?

You: Hi (my name), I’m pretty good.

Me: Great, what can I get for you?

You: I’ll take my usual breakfast sandwich, and medium latte with skim.

Me: Oh, I’m really sorry, we just ran out of the wheat bagels you like – can we put your sandwich on a plain bagel instead?

You: Actually, I think I’ll try it on wheat toast today.

Me: We can totally do that. Your total is $9.69.

You: (hands me money, puts a couple of singles in the tip jar)

Ta-da, you were a model customer just now. And here’s another pro tip: if you work to be the customer the staff remembers and likes, you’ll get unexpected perks, I swear it. It might be an extra piece of bacon on your sandwich, it might be a little more generous side of chips, or it might be “hey I just came up with an awesome idea for a milkshake, you wanna try it?”

I love my job, and I love (most of) my regular customers. And going to a place where the staff is happy to see you, is never a bad thing.